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Wheelchair no obstacle to mission passion

ALICEVILLE, Ala. (BP)–Peggy Gentry may be bound to a wheelchair, but her service to Christ knows no bounds.

“The Lord gave me a desire to go, and I just want to keep on going,” says Gentry, who has been limited to her wheelchair since she was stricken with multiple sclerosis in 1970. MS is an incurable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Most MS patients experience muscle weakness and difficulty with coordination and balance.

But physical affliction hasn’t kept Gentry from staying faithful in her church attendance at First Baptist Church in Aliceville, Ala., and participating in missions trips to Thailand, Guatemala and Venezuela.

“Peggy and her wheelchair have gone all over the world for the cause of Christ. She has not allowed her physical limitations to hinder her,” says Landon Williams, minister of music and youth at First Baptist. “Sugar [a nickname given to Peggy by a grandson] never misses Sunday School and worship. Never.”

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Gentry’s husband, James, a retired physician and lifetime trustee of Judson College in Marion, Ala., shares his wife’s commitment to missions. The couple has participated in numerous projects sponsored by Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship, an organization that coordinates dental and health-care missions domestically and internationally.

James participated in his first BMDF project by himself. When he shared with organizers that his wife was confined to a wheelchair, they responded, “Bring her with you the next time. We can find a place for someone in a wheelchair.”

Though faced with unremitting hardship, Peggy set an example of determination. “Everywhere Peggy went, people marveled that she would come such a long distance in a wheelchair,” James says. “She’s made friends on every trip. People see things in Peggy that change their ways of looking at life.”

Through the years, Gentry’s condition has worsened. “Today, except for some small amount of movement in her right arm, Peggy is a quadriplegic,” James says. “Peggy needs daily assistance with feeding, bathing and dressing.”

In addition to meeting her needs, James also is caring for his 111-year-old mother, Mary, who lives with them.

The Gentrys’ spiritual strength and stamina are an inspiration to Felicia Summerville, one of several individuals helping James care for his wife and mother.

“Dr. Gentry and Peggy are really good people,” Summerville says. “I love working for them. They are like my second family.”

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The Gentrys’ pastor, Charles Wilson, says Peggy’s resolve to keep going is noteworthy and an example to others.

“She is the most faithful, committed and compassionate woman I have ever known,” Wilson says. “She has a heart for the local church and for the church triumphant, as well as a heart for missions. God’s had Peggy’s heart for a long time.”
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Gary Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.